Mubarak Trial: Toppled Dictator Denies All Charges

Hosni Mubarak answers the charges at his Cairo trial. The former dictator, 83, was stretchered into the court on a hospital bed. (Photograph: Reuters TV)

Mubarak Trial: Toppled Dictator Denies All Charges

Hosni Mubarak stretchered into Cairo courtroom in first TV appearance since Egypt revolution

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has denied all charges against him as his trial began in Cairo.

Lying on a stretcher in standard-issue white prison overalls, behind the bars of the defendants' cage, the 83-year-old spoke just once to confirm his presence and enter his plea. "I deny all these charges and accusations categorically," he said.

Mubarak stands accused of economic corruption, striking an illegal business deal involving gas exports to Israel, and the unlawful killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising against his reign. If found guilty, he could face the death penalty.

The spectacle was aired live on state television, bringing much of the capital to a standstill as Egyptians huddled around TV sets and watched their former leader in the dock. It was the first time Mubarak had appeared on television since 10 February, when he gave a defiant speech to the nation refusing to resign. He fled Cairo the next day.

Amid chaotic scenes in the makeshift courthouse, with lawyers shouting over each other to get the judge's attention and running street battles raging outside between supporters and opponents of the toppled president, the sight of Mubarak lying impassive as a prosecutor read out some of the names of those killed by his security forces is likely to be one of the defining images of this year's ongoing political unrest in the Arab world.

Mubarak's two sons and co-defendants, Alaa and Gamal - the latter having once been Mubarak's presumed heir to the presidency - also protested their innocence. Former interior minister Habib el-Adly and six of his senior police deputies are also facing similar charges.

"I am delighted that I see them in a cage," Saeeda Hassan Abdel-Raouf, the mother of a 22-year-old protester who was among those killed in the uprising, told reporters. "I feel that my son's soul is finally starting to be at rest and that his blood will cool."

Mubarak was ferried from the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh by military helicopter earlier this morning, arriving in the courthouse at 10am local time. Despite the judge's insistence that anybody disrupting proceedings would face an automatic 24-hour prison sentence, the trial regularly descended into confusion as lawyers put forward various technical arguments regarding legal aspects of the case.

At one point a lawyer demanded that Mubarak undergo a DNA test, claiming that the ex-leader actually died in 2004 and had been replaced by an impostor.

More seriously, Mubarak's defence lawyer Farid el-Deeb hinted that Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi - Mubarak's defence minister and current de facto ruler of the country - may be called as a witness. Tantawi's council of army generals has been running Egypt for the past six months, and is nervous about what may emerge from the current legal proceedings.

Although the first day was dominated by legal wrangling, it soon became clear that those expecting a swift verdict would be disappointed. Mubarak's prosecution file is believed to run to over 12,000 pages, and his defence announced plans to call more than 1,000 witnesses.

Mubarak's trial was adjourned at the end of the session until 15 August while Adly's will resume on Thursday. The former president will be kept in a hospital in Cairo until that date.

Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have warned that Mubarak's prosecution must be conducted fairly. "This trial presents a historic opportunity for Egypt to hold a former leader and his inner-circle to account for crimes committed during their rule," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty director for the Middle East and north Africa.

"But if the trial is going to be a meaningful break with Egypt's record of impunity, it must be both fair and transparent - justice demands no less. Not only must the trial be fair but it must be seen to be fair, not least by the families of those who died during the protests."

Outside the police academy where the court is sitting thousands of soldiers and riot police failed to prevent groups of rival demonstrators from clashing. Mubarak supporters hurled rocks at police, media and a giant screen broadcasting the trial, chanting: "We will demolish and burn the prison if they convict Mubarak." Fifty-three people were reported injured in the skirmishes.

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